by Anna Bratulic
A pudgy child stares up with dread at the rope he has to climb in front
of his classmates. Chances are, this kid will grow up to view physical
activity as a source of failure.
Getting children by nature physically active to become active
adults can be thwarted by bad personal experiences in sports and physical
education classes. However, according to sports psychology educator Lois
Baron, that can be changed with a simple philosophy: Make it fun.
Its a matter of trying to find activities that kids enjoy
doing so they can develop a sense of confidence in the activity and personal
control over their choices. Thats what will motivate them to be
more physically active throughout their lives, which really should be
our goal, she said.
Baron, a full professor in Concordias Department of Education, is
herself is a sports enthusiast who credits her parents with encouraging
her to be physically active when she was young.
Kids have no problem making activities fun for themselves,
she said. Its the teachers, coaches and parents who often
turn it into something more competitive.
Baron, along with co-researcher Peggy Downey, an associate professor in
the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education at McGill, are in
the process of analyzing data they collected from a Beaconsfield elementary
school on the attitudes some children had toward gymnastics, dance and
While theyre still looking at the data, Baron and Downey have found
that average children in an average school have varying tastes and abilities,
and keeping to a rigid and dated curriculum may effectively prevent some
children from becoming active adults. Preliminary results indicate that
boys rate their success higher than girls do in games, and girls rate
themselves higher than boys in gymnastics and dance.
Research generally supports the finding that girls rate their competence
in physical activity as lower than boys, particularly as they get older.
However, the results of this study do not appear to support this, demonstrating
that there is a need for a variety of content in school-based curricula.
In addition, the findings of Barons and Downeys study indicate
that girls attribute their success in games, gymnastics and dance to internal
factors, such ability and effort, more so than boys. In other words, the
girls in their study exhibited characteristics that should promote their
continued participation in physical activity.
Are children participating in the activities that they really want
to be involved in throughout their elementary years? If they are, then
maybe they will become more active participants throughout their lives,
Professor Baron said. Theyll want to do more physical activity.
They dont have to necessarily be elite athletes.
Physical education changing
Downey said that the Quebec physical education curriculum is becoming
more sensitive to not discouraging young children from physical activity.
I think the trend is toward providing a variety of activities where
all students, especially at the elementary school level, can find their
niche, not just activities that favour the strongest or the fastest. The
new focus is on developing movement competencies that will enable children
to handle their bodies well in different environments.
Factors such as socio-economic status, parent-child and child-coach relationships,
and peer groups also influence the childs decision to remain physically
Parents who are more physically active themselves, and have the means,
can provide their children with more choice in the activities they undertake.
Participating in sports and physical activity with children from
different backgrounds has been shown to enable lower socio-economic status
children to improve academically and rise in status.
As her next project, Baron, along with Professor Randy Swedburg (Applied
Human Sciences) and Melanie Drew, director of Health Services at Concordia,
will look at the motivations that promote active living
in which they include such activities as walking to work and gardening
throughout the life-span, initially focusing on the baby-boomer
They are presenting a proposal to the Canadian Institute for Health Research,
to be submitted early next year.